Haeger fans 12, but Dodgers' lead gets away
Florida's Cantu hits game-winner off reliever Weaver
MIAMI -- The Dodgers can set a franchise record by finishing first for three consecutive seasons, but one week in, they are off to their worst start in seven years.
Instead of first, they're tied for last. The bullpen has been charged with two blown saves and three of the four losses, including Sunday's 6-5 giveaway to the Marlins. The Dodgers had a 4-0 lead and a fifth starter, Charlie Haeger, who struck out a dozen in six innings, and they still couldn't win.
This was the third time in six games that the Dodgers scored at least five runs and lost. That happened only 11 times in 2009. They led in three of the losses, and two of them were walk-offs. The pitching staff's ERA is 5.15, the bullpen's 5.68.
"The thing we have to find out about is our pitching," manager Joe Torre said after Jeff Weaver allowed a decisive two-run double down the left-field foul line in the seventh inning to Jorge Cantu, who had five RBIs.
"We have to find out about ourselves and what gives us the best chance to win a ballgame. We're going to go only as far as our pitching allows us. We know Vicente Padilla [two starts of 4 1/3 innings] is better than the two games he's pitched. It's far too early to concern ourselves thinking, 'He can't do it, they can't do it.' It's too early in the season."
The Dodgers are 2-4 after their first trip east, and they'll have another nine games here before the month is over. They will play 15 games in the Eastern time zone in April, only seven in the Pacific zone. On Tuesday they play the first of six in a real strange land called home. They've spent three days there since the middle of February, and they expect Andre Ethier to return to the lineup after missing four starts with a sprained ankle.
Are they ready?
"What do you think?" said Matt Kemp. "I'm ready to go home and see my fans."
Kemp had two hits and scored a run on Sunday, but he also participated in the circus atmosphere of the game when his Gold Glove dropped a routine fly ball, a mistake that led to an unearned run.
"It was pretty bad," Kemp said of the trip. "We made big mistakes in key situations, and we're not driving in runs at the right time. We're making errors, things we can't be doing in tight games."
The Dodgers scored plenty despite not starting Ethier, Manny Ramirez, Casey Blake and Russell Martin. The "split squad" got 11 hits, including three from Ronnie Belliard, who is hitting .500, and two from Reed Johnson, now hitting .385. Johnson also stole a base.
They also got RBIs on a squeeze bunt and sacrifice fly from rookie A.J. Ellis, called up on Saturday to replace the injured Brad Ausmus, and in this game drawing the challenging assignment of catching butterflies.
Haeger's knuckleball danced in the humidity of South Florida. It was hard for the Marlins to hit, and hard for Ellis to catch. Haeger was charged with three wild pitches, two of them third strikes that allowed runners to reach base. And Ellis -- using an oversize mitt that Haeger took from former San Diego teammate Josh Bard -- missed about five pitches, as catchers of knuckleballs are known to do.
"He's got to have the ability to block a little more," Torre, the former catcher, said of Ellis. "It's tough to say he'll get better -- you never know what the ball is going to do, but you can get in better position."
Haeger's knuckler deserted him only briefly at the start of the bottom of the fourth inning, but it was costly, as he walked the first two batters before Cantu followed with a three-run homer.
"Those walks hurt more than anything," said Haeger, who issued four passes, otherwise validating his fifth-starter status with three earned runs in six innings. "I'm going to give up home runs. As long as they're solos, it won't hurt that bad. Those two hitters, I just seemed to get out of rhythm. Even the pitch to Cantu, he hit a good knuckleball. He's a good hitter. Once Cantu hit it, I got back into rhythm. It was the best movement I've had in a while. It's fickle."
Haeger made 39 of his 116 pitches in that fourth inning.
Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.